Researchers have called for national dietary guidelines around the world to be updated and revised in a bid to boost the planet’s health as well as our own.
The plea follows the discovery that, while most national guidelines aim to promote our health, many fall short when it comes to helping preserve the planet.
New national food based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) must place a much greater emphasis on the environmental impact, social and cultural aspects of our diet, say the authors. By updating them in line with latest scientific advances, national guidelines would not only help us make healthy food choices but would also give us a steer on how to make our diets more sustainable.
Guiding principles of sustainable healthy diets
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have drawn up a list of 16 guiding principles to achieve sustainable healthy diets. These principles cover health, environmental and sociocultural aspects. The intention is that these principles should be used in the development of national FBDGs to make sustainable healthy diets affordable, accessible, safe and desirable for the local population.
Matching national FBDGs with the guiding principles
The authors identified 43 FBDGs from different countries that were available in English and looked at how closely they matched the FAO/WHO guiding principles. They took into account how old the FBDGs were and what country they were for.
Overall, compliance with health-related guiding principles was high, especially in the most recent FBDGs. But environmental impact and sociocultural aspects of diet weren’t considered very often, particularly in the older FBDGs. Among environmental aspects, reducing food loss and waste was included most frequently (23% of total FBDGs).
FBDGs across the globe
American FBDGs showed the lowest compliance with health-related principles. Compliance with environmental principles was lowest in Africa (only one country included one of the five guiding principles) and highest in Europe where on average it was considered in 20% of FBDGs). Compliance with sociocultural principles was lowest in Europe (on average considered in 15% of FBDGs) and highest in America (52%) and Africa (47%).
Availability of up-to-date FBDGs could help speed up the move towards a more sustainable food system, say the authors. Revising FBDGs to improve compliance with environmental principles is particularly important if we are to hit the global targets related to climate change and environmental resource use.
‘The analysis revealed a high level of compliance from FBDGs [food-based dietary guidelines] with health-related guiding principles, but a critically low level of compliance with principles related to environmental impact and sociocultural aspects.’ – Martini D, et al, 2021.